To Forgive is Divine

Depression linked to issues of forgiveness for family members at end of life

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) At the end of someone’s life, it may seem easier to try to focus on the good. But if unresolved issues are present, forgiveness can bring everyone some peace.

A recent study examined communication between family members and end-of-life patients. These researchers found a link between giving or needing forgiveness and depression symptoms.

The researchers do believe their study suggests that unfinished business causes family members distress with end-of-life issues.

"Ease stress by resolving issues now."

Julie Exline, PhD, of the Department of Psychological Sciences at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland led a study of end-of-life concerns for family members.

Surveys were taken by 142 family members of home hospice patients in the United States. The surveys asked family members what they would like to say to the patients before they died, and also rated the importance of several expressions: love, gratitude, giving and seeking forgiveness and saying farewell.

The researchers also asked the family members to report on their depressive symptoms, if any were present.

While love, gratitude and saying farewell were more commonly rated important, giving or seeking forgiveness was rated as “extremely important” by many family members. Those who rated forgiveness as important had higher levels of depressive symptoms.

Also, for those who had rated forgiveness as important but hadn’t yet been able to discuss it with the patient, depressive symptoms were even higher than for those who had been able to talk about it.

One-third of people reported “unresolved issues” between themselves and the patient; as the number of unresolved issues increased, so did the amount of depressive symptoms.

However, family members who had communicated about their unresolved issues had fewer depressive symptoms. The researchers caution that this is non-experimental data, and so needing forgiveness cannot necessarily be said to cause depression.

This study was published in the Journal of Palliative Medicine and was supported by a grant from the Fetzer Insitute. The authors state that no conflicts of interest exist for this study.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 19, 2012
Last Updated:
November 26, 2012